At the core of the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) is a commitment to helping entrepreneurs learn and grow in every stage of business. Hiring a diverse range of thinkers is a best practice that empowers your organization to approach challenges with a deep well of ideas. But in a tight employment market, how can you achieve that? To address this topic, we asked Nimrod Hoofien, head of product engineering at Gusto, who remains open to hiring candidates that show grit and perseverance--even if they don't have a conventional background for the role. Here's what he shared.

In the "new, now, next" tech scene in Silicon Valley, hundreds--if not thousands--of startups are on a mission to be the next big thing. It's not just about building businesses; it's about building recognizable brands.

As a business strategy, that logic is sound. After all, brands convey a sense of staying power and pedigree while building trust and driving decision-making among buyers. Research shows 82 percent of consumers choose to use recognizable brands, with 50 percent willing to pay more for those companies' products or services--not just because they recognize the name, but because they understand the quality, value and service they can expect.

Yet, when that same strategy is applied to hiring, chasing brand names and over-indexing on pedigree doesn't work as well. People aren't products, and a surefire candidate on paper isn't always a sure thing in practice. Based on what I've experienced, that mentality breeds biases, even unconsciously, that can eventually become blind spots in business. But, it happens in hiring anyway, time and time again.

It's a head-scratcher, particularly in an industry as disruptive as tech, which isn't built on safe bets and sure things. It's based on innovation, boldness and daring. So why are we still tripping over ourselves to hire the same candidates from the same small pool of elite universities and established tech companies? Especially when study after study shows businesses built on diversity of thought and experience are 35 percent more likely to outperform their more homogeneous peers and 70 percent more likely to capture new markets.

As an engineer from Israel who came to Silicon Valley knowing very few people, who has considered my own career switches, experienced employment gaps, and worked at companies of all shapes and sizes, I've experienced firsthand the benefits of a more open-minded approach to hiring, both as a candidate and later, a hiring manager. There's an advantage in shifting the way we evaluate criteria to gain a more holistic sense of candidates and what they're capable of doing, versus what they've already done.

3 Mindset shifts that encourage diversity of thought

Here's what's worked for me in more than two decades of engineering diversity of thought at scale. None of it is a silver bullet, but it's a start in how we can shift our mindsets when evaluating candidates to encourage diversity of thought.

  • Rethink resume "red flags." The traditional tendency is to see employment gaps or pivots as red flags or question marks for a candidate. Instead, it can be helpful to look at them with curiosity as moments of self-awareness or self-discovery. To me, pivots can represent "a spark"--a sign that someone made a decision or a career move because they felt internally driven to do so. Case-in-point, one of the coolest coders I ever hired was a former California Highway Patrol officer. He didn't have the traditional engineering pedigree, but he had persistence. He learned to code because he needed to build, not because he thought it would impress a hiring committee. And we hired him on the spot. 
  • Be your own source for skill development. Too often, we look externally for skill sets to be filled before a candidate gets to us, either via degrees, certifications or completed coursework. But, as a company grows, there is more and more opportunity to develop internal learning and development initiatives for skill-building. During my time at Facebook, we implemented a rotational program for people from non-traditional backgrounds to work alongside other engineers and learn on the job. The overwhelming majority of them received full-time engineering job offers from us within a year. Even if you don't have Facebook-sized resources, you can leverage internal resources for skill development: offer workshops, host meetups, encourage lunch-and-learns or hold office hours.
  • Factor in the future, instead of prioritizing the past. For any hire, skills are undoubtedly necessary, and assessments are, and should be, part of the process. But, it's essential to factor growth potential into the equation by evaluating the job a person is capable of doing, instead of fixating squarely on the jobs they've already done. That's why face-to-face interviews are so important. In my current position, by the time I meet with a candidate, more often than not, there's no whiteboard involved. Instead, we'll go on a walk so that I can get to know them, understand their motivations, and get a sense of their goals. Aligning on values and motivations is a huge part of our process. To me, that illuminates much more about a person's growth potential than a line of code ever could.

There's no algorithm for engineering diversity of thought within an organization. But, by shifting our focus away from an over-reliance on brand-names, and embracing a more holistic approach to hiring, we can create more diverse workforces that are better equipped for long-term success.